WHO SAID LIFE IS FAIR? – Marilyn Armstrong

With shock and grief, I hear the wailing of betrayed youth. They have made the awfulest Big Discovery.


Life is unfair.


You work hard, perform brilliantly yet wind up bruised and forgotten. Then again, you might find yourself famous, rich, and covered with honors. It’s not cause and effect, though we like to think it is … until the economy, health, or other people betray those beliefs.

The younger me knew — with 100% certainty — that work, talent, ambition and determination were magic. The older me learned you can do everything right, follow all the rules and then some, and it still doesn’t work out.

bankruptcy

I did it all. I worked hard and with more than due diligence. I smiled when I wanted to snarl to keep that critical positive attitude. I was creative. I gave it my all.

I did okay, but while I worked hard and put in overtime, I watched the suck-ups, second-raters, and those who worked cheaper if not better, move past me. I came in early and stayed late while they went to meetings and took long lunches. If I’d gone to more meetings, would that have changed the outcome?

Somehow, I doubt it. I can’t be someone I’m not, though I sure did try. It’s out of my hands. I’m a passenger on this bus and it’s a long ride ahead of me (I hope).

Former belief: Play by The Rules, give it your all. You are bound to “make it.”

Current belief: Do the best you can and hope for a bit of luck and a boss who really likes you. Oh, and a company that won’t go bankrupt before you get paid. If not, enjoy life. It’s the only one you’ve got.

We tell our kids if they do it all right they will get that pot of gold. We don’t tell them that work sucks. Most of their bosses will be morons who know less than they do and have less talent.

But we also were right. They will earn a reward: the satisfaction of knowing they did their best. It’s a big reward. Everyone can count on it and no one can take away.

We have to try. If we succeed and for a while, we get a piece of the good stuff, at least enough to feel it wasn’t a waste of time, that’s great. For some, it just doesn’t happen. Bad luck? Wrong attitude? Crappy economy? Not quite enough talent?

And you have to know that trying may not be enough. You also need talent and luck and good timing.

Sometimes, you need a better agent.

I no longer believe in inevitable triumph. There’s always a chance you’ll make it to the top and it’s fantastic if the magic works. For me, realism has replaced optimism. Everyone’s best achievement is living up to our best self. If this also turns into a success, I’ll wear your t-shirt. If not, this is an achievement no one can ruin. You can’t control the world, but you can control yourself.

Life’s a roller coaster. You’re up and then you’re down. Screaming, crying, laughing … you go where the rails take you. Life will surprise you and sometimes a loss becomes a winner and will give you moments of unimagined joy.

Rejoice when times are good, but if you must, cope with the darkness. You can learn a lot in the dark.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – CONTROLLING OUR LIVES – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #40

And so the question is:

Control is an illusion. It’s what we all believe we’ve got until our life takes a sharp turn and hits a big rock or slides into the ditch. Crash.

All of your firm beliefs that nothing can stop you doesn’t help because there are things — many things — that can stop you.

I love when people tell me nothing can stop them, that whatever they want, they can get it. All they have to do is want it enough. I don’t argue with people who talk like that. They believe it and who am I to argue?

I’ve hit a lot of rocks, ditches, sharp turns. I’ve had my “life vehicle” battered to wreckage. I learned, painfully and slowly there is a time to put down the reins, look in the mirror and face reality. Even when it isn’t what you want.  There comes a time to give up trying to control your world and go with the flow. To find a better path.

Your perfect, beautifully controlled life can turn upside-down in a split second. For others, it’s slower. For me, it was at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I refused to pay attention to the wreckage of my spine. It was mind over matter. I was strong. I could make it work, no matter what.

Good idea. But mind-over-matter only takes you so far. Major life changes do not happen in an afternoon. True they can occur in one messy crash … or they can take over bit by bit over decades. I found a great doctor who told me something I had heard before but had hoped there was another answer.

He said: “Your back has got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise. Recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid. No car crashes. No falling. No lifting.”

No horses, no hauling. Got that. And of course, this was before all the heart surgery, which further eliminated the likelihood of any of these perilous activities. So. I’m not doing anything stupid.

Okay, I’m not doing anything very stupid. Maybe only a little stupid. And nothing that will break anything that isn’t already broken.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s life. If you don’t die young, you will get old. Which means unless you are exceptionally lucky, parts of you will hurt. Whether or not you are in a position to help fix the hurt with surgery, exercise, physical therapy, or medication? It depends on what’s wrong.

The only thing you cannot plan is a life over which you maintain full control. No one gets that.

We all have some control, but ultimately, no one has full control. Ever.

When life throws you a curve, you have a choice. Spend your time fighting for something you can’t be or do — or with a bit of grace, find your way to being whoever you are now, in this time and place.

Not winning all the battles doesn’t have to be tragic. That is where you have some control. You can view changes as a challenge or as a catastrophe. How you see them is up to you. Pretending they aren’t there can be calamitous.

Reality is not the worst place to live. Life is full of weirdness, lies, and illusion, but going face-to-face with the truth can be uplifting. You don’t have to give up living. You do have to learn to live a life that works. For you.

RIDING IT OUT – Marilyn Armstrong

For almost two years, I’ve barely used the chair lift. I was glad it was there and it was useful for hauling groceries and suitcases upstairs and that was good for both of us. But lately, I’ve started using it. I realized there was absolutely nothing to be gained by dragging myself up two staircases, gasping, wheezing, with heart pounding.

Although I can —  and do — get up and down the stairs, it’s slow and getting slower. It’s more than a bit nerve-wracking too. It takes me a while to take that first downward step (up is easier) and I’m always sure I’m going to fall. I have fallen a lot over the years, including when I was younger. I can’t seem to find my balance going down.

One step at a time and carrying packages, stairs are impossible and dangerous. Riding up and down the stairs takes the fear and pain out of the process of getting in and out of the house. I’m okay walking on the sidewalk and the floors, but the stairs put such a strain on my lower spine and hips, I went from feeling okay to feeling ready to collapse.

It was time to actually use the chair lift.

Not only is it a way to get upstairs not on my feet, but it ‘s also possible to get someone in a wheelchair into the house and up to our living level. Before that, we’ve had to tell anyone with disabilities that our house was unready for them.

I reached the end of assuming that I’m going to get better and the stairs won’t be as difficult. Asthma is worse, probably because it’s untreated and my spine is worse, especially at the S1 juncture which was never fused — unlike the three discs above it. The pressure on the spinal cord is serious and unlikely to improve. There’s no exercise that will improve it.

It’s my final nod to the realities of my life, the “giving in” to the pain as something that won’t get better. The new drugs I’m taking help quite a bit — as long as I walk on relatively flat ground. I can climb a little bit if I am very careful. I can cook and clean in the house and if the ground is not rough, I’m mobile. To a point.

When I’m tired, I have to take it seriously. I need to stop and rest. When I do that, I don’t fall apart and I stay reasonably well. No amount of goodwill, determination, or optimism will change the condition of my spine. I think not hauling myself up and downstairs will probably marginally improve my mobility.

I cannot begin to tell you how much this isn’t what I envisioned for my life as a senior. I was planning to be a dashing senior. Like in the movies. Gray and wise, but ready to do it all.

Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. I wanted to force myself to be that snazzy senior I imagined. Overall, I think it’s better if I stay alive and able to move!

PEAK PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #31 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #31

Thirty-one is one of my “lucky numbers.” I’ve lived in houses numbered 31 twice, won prizes for number 31 (a TV and a long weekend in New York city including a visit to the (then) brand new Yankee Stadium) and more.

I don’t have a follow-up to this comment. That’s the whole story.

Recently we’ve been watching that 15-year-old tennis whiz kid. I got to thinking: “What if you are the biggest and best at whatever you do when you are 14 or 15? When you are the best tennis player ever especially if you are merely 15, or you are the best baton twirler on earth at 14? Where do you go after that? Is it all downhill?”

This question first occurred to me when I watched the baton twirler on television maybe ten years ago and I was thinking “This is her peak moment and it’s all downhill from here.”

I suspect this may be part of the problem with child stars. They grow up. Their best years are behind them and a lot of them don’t work much after they complete their teen years.

I don’t think I’ve had a peak year yet. Maybe I never will. I’ve had great moments. I’ve had joyful moments, little thrilling times. I’ve had a couple of really great years, breathtaking visual and emotional moments … but nothing I would call “the peak.”

I’m not sure there will be a peak. Good years, bad years, terrific years, historic years … but peak? Life is a series of peaks and valleys, dips and mountains.

That’s fine with me.

HOW GO YOUR YEARS? – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was in college, two of the women with whom I became friends were suicides. Neither of them was happy, but I would never have guessed either of them was suicidal.

One of them was just 19 when she killed herself. The other was 21.

For this reason, I have never assumed “everything is fine” for anyone. Even when you ask, you will only know what you are told and that is rarely the entire truth. People are secretive about their deepest fears and thoughts.

“How are you?”

“Everything is fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

How many times can you ask before you realize you aren’t going to discover more? When people mention that aging makes them “think about mortality” I realize I began thinking about mortality when Karin died and then again when Anna jumped. Also when a young couple, just married, crashed their car into a truck and died on the highway.

Yet again, when my first husband got kidney cancer at 34 and lived, but still died young of heart disease and medical errors. Then my brother died of pancreatic cancer at 61. One of Garry’s colleagues — in her early 40s — died while waiting for a bus in Cambridge. When my first husband’s father died of his second heart attack at 52, I was pregnant and sorry he never met his grandson. For that matter, Jeff died at 53 and never met his granddaughter.

I knew a young person who died of a heart attack before age 21. Another internet friend, Rosa, died last year of a heart attack. I only found out when her mother called to tell me. She wasn’t yet 35.

And of course, there are all the friends our age who are battling cancer, dementia, heart conditions, not to mention the ones who have “beaten” cancer, but of course, you never really beat cancer. You are remitted and that will have to do.

When people complain about not being as active as they were when they were many years younger, I think they are missing the point. Age or disease can do you in at any point in your life. You don’t have to get old. You can be 21, an athlete, and collapse on the court.

The Dark Lord will have his way. When and how it hits you is partly how you used your body and your DNA. Depending on your constitution, your ability to walk, run, ride, or whatever you do may be compromised. Even eliminated.

Then again, are you breathing on your own? Do you get out of bed in the morning, even if it is a struggle? Do you find joy in your life? Do you laugh? Are there people you love who also love you? Is life interesting? Are you still curious to know what’s going to happen?

If any of these things are true, yay for you. You are alive.

Mortality is always with us, whether we are old or young. We may not be paying attention to it, or we may be under some delusion that we are exempt from “the end” because we exercise and eat right. But there will be an end.

Maybe, as Jeff used it say, it’ll be a runaway beer truck. Or something unexpectedly medical. It may be tomorrow or in 60 years. Whatever time you have, be gracious and grateful. Many people don’t get a life full of years. Others get the years and manage to be miserable anyway.

Enjoy your years, however many you have. And while you are at it, be nice to the people you know and especially those who love you and who you love. Kindness is the least expensive and most valuable gift we have to give.

IMMORTALITY AND AGING – Marilyn Armstrong

I am not sure I ever believed I was immortal, most likely because I didn’t think about it. Until sometime during college, when my various courses forced me to ponder the nature of life and death. College was the peak time for existential mental muck-raking. Being young makes these subjects philosophical.

Was this the result of too many hallucinogenic drugs? No. It was the lectures and classes. It was the books. Too many books.

College can’t hurt you if all you do is hang out on the quad or wander around looking for a bridge game where they need a fourth. I actually went to class.

I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and “Phenomenology.”

I always had a steady list of existential books I needed to read for classes, in English and French. Sartre, Camus, Lawrence Durrell, et al.

It was deep stuff and is the literature I won’t read today.

That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It cured me of pondering the meaning of life and death and aimed me more in the direction of staying alive.

Nothing is more aggravating than college students pondering the philosophical meaning of death who suddenly make a realization.

“Hey, I could really DIE.”

It takes the fun and philosophy out of the experience and adds a hard edge of fear. I’m pretty sure we all thought we were smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff.

I was so wrong.

As I got older, I knew people who died. There was nothing philosophical about it. A couple of suicidal friends. Aging family members. The odd car skidding down the edge of a mountain.

Now that I’m a senior citizen, I know I’m very mortal. One of these days, it will be a certainty.

I’ll get back to you on that.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT PREDESTINATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

This week’s provocative question is a spinoff of a question that Melanie (Sparks From a Combustible Mind) asked in her last Share Your World post.

That question from Melanie got me thinking about fate and predestination. So here’s this week’s provocative question.

I’m not entirely sure what “predestination” means. By this do you mean a rigid “ending” that you can’t change, no matter what? Because I don’t believe in that.

I think we end up where we are supposed to be. I don’t think it’s a rigid, unchanging finish. I think it is flexible and will change depending on the choices we make. But there’s a likely place we will probably land.

I don’t believe in a frozen, unbending future. More like a conclusion based on our intelligence, status, birthplace, education … and the things to which we are attracted and choose along our path as well as the kind of people to whom we are attracted.

This is how I like to describe it.

Life is like a bus trip, except you don’t know where you are going and you can’t drive the bus. No ticket, no map.

You will meet other travelers on the bus. Some will be your friends and maybe lovers and mates. They enter the bus at various stops and get off where they must. You may not be happy about it.

The bus will sometimes stop and give you the chance to visit and enjoy the scenery, but eventually, you’ll have to get back on the bus.

You still won’t have any idea where the bus is going and you still can’t drive. Sometimes, the road will be very rough and treacherous. Other times, the road will be smooth and the scenery beautiful. When all is smooth and lovely, you may think you’ve got everything under control.

You will never have everything under control. You never know when the bus will take a sudden turn or for that matter, drive off a bridge.

Life will take you where it takes you.

I don’t know what, if anything, God has to do with it. Maybe something. Maybe nothing. I have no idea. But if prayer makes you feel better, I say go for it. Because whatever makes you feel better — especially if it costs nothing — is worth doing.